Sonata in E flat for Piano and Violin, Op.12/3
Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op.134
Leonidas Kavakos (violin) & Enrico Pace (piano)
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 28 May, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
In this lunchtime concert the juxtaposition of the grandest and last of the sonatas from Beethoven’s Opus 12 and Shostakovich’s spectral late thoughts worked remarkably well. Shostakovich’s Sonata was originally intended as a 60th-birthday tribute to David Oistrakh. However the composer failed to deliver the piece in time. Oistrakh and Shostakovich had intended to invite Sviatoslav Richter to be the pianist for the sonata’s premiere but he was unavailable so Oistrakh gave the first performance of the work to a session of the Soviet Union of Composers in January 1968 with Moishei Vainberg. The ‘official’ premiere took place with Richter in Leningrad in May of the same year. The desire for Richter’s participation perhaps reflects the importance of the demanding piano part.
In Beethoven’s ‘violin sonatas’, too, the pianist is frequently more than an accompanist (as originally published the violin sonatas are described as being for “Klavier und Violine”) and it was immediately noticeable that Leonidas Kavakos and Enrico Pace are a genuine partnership of musical equals, Pace’s crisp, clean playing ideally attuned. This was a strongly Classical reading, forcefully projected in the first movement’s turbulent development, ideally elevated in the Adagio and trenchant in the finale. Kavakos brings a high seriousness to everything he plays and perhaps there is more quicksilver gemütlichkeit to this music than was evident here, but there were also moments of rare stillness and concentration profoundly at one with Beethoven at his most inward.
Shostakovich’s protracted Sonata is the composer at his most mysterious; bleak music emerges from the shadows and rises to an almost unimaginable pitch of anger in the Allegretto before receding. Dylan Thomas’s lines “Do not go gentle into that good night … Rage, rage against the dying of the light” capture its essence perfectly.
This was wholly memorable and penetrating, Kavakos and Pace patiently allowing the full ferocity of the central movement’s unrelenting onslaught time to culminate (at its close there was an audible collective intake of breath) before leading us inexorably through the final passacaglia, a labyrinth of bleached-out sound where, even when playing together, one had the impression of each instrument isolated in its own world (like two people, once close and still stuck with each other, between whom communication has completely broken down). Only in the first movement did the tempo seem fractionally static – a contrasting section sounded more like Prokofiev than Shostakovich – but even here Kavakos’s supreme control and gravity were totally at one with this hugely challenging music.